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Wednesday, May 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Shooting Claim Against|Calif. Cops Can Proceed

SACRAMENTO (CN) - Grieving parents can pursue claims that police officers shot to death their naked, unarmed son during a hallucinogen-fueled rampage with another man, a federal judge ruled.

Vallejo police Officer Sean Kenney and other officers allegedly killed 29-year-old Jeremiah Moore shortly after 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 21, 2012.

His parents, Lisa and Eugene Moore, say it all started when police responded to complaints that Jeremiah and his partner, Jason Jessie, "were arguing, breaking windows in their house and their parked cars, and trying to set their house on fire," Courthouse News reported two days after the fatal shooting.

Responding officers allegedly found Jeremiah Moore walking around naked and unarmed. The Moores claim the police were told that Jeremiah had autism and was mentally ill, but when he did not immediately respond to their orders to get on the ground, they opened fire.

The Vallejo Police Department issued a statement the day of the shooting, claiming that Moore had pointed a loaded rifle at an officer, and that another officer shot him to save the other officer's life.

A local newspaper reported that police found the decapitated bodies of three pet birds in Moore's back yard, and later reports indicated that the men had been under the influence of a substance identified as "bath salts."

Moore's parents filed a pro per lawsuit in April 2014 against the city of Vallejo, Police Chief Joseph Kreins, and Officer Sean Kenney, citing seven causes of action, including wrongful death and civil rights violations.

U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez sided with the Moores on all but two claims in an 11-page ruling issued Friday, Oct. 17.

He rejected the defendants' argument that the Moores did not include enough evidence in their First, Fourth and 14th Amendment claims against Officer Kenney.

The Moores' complaint stated that Kenney shot and killed their son while Jeremiah was naked and unarmed, and despite knowing that he was mentally ill, which sufficiently entitles them to relief, Judge Mendez wrote.

But Mendez agreed to dismiss the Moores' interference with familial relationship claim, saying they had improperly pleaded it under the Fourth Amendment.

"The parents of a victim of an unlawful police shooting have personal standing to claim deprivation of familial relationship under the substantive due process clause of the 14th Amendment. Thus, the 14th Amendment, not the Fourth Amendment, allows plaintiffs to bring claims for deprivation of or interference with familial relationship," Mendez wrote.

He also dismissed the Moores' claims of unreasonable search and seizure and excessive, but said that their other claims against Kenney still stand.

Arguments that the Moores did not allege sufficient facts to support civil rights claims against Vallejo and Chief Kreins did not impress the court.

In a liability claim based on Monell v. Department of Social Services of City of New York, the Moores said the city had a practice of depriving disabled people of their constitutional rights because it knew that Officer Kenney had a history of shooting people who posed no threat, including disabled people, but did not implement training programs to stop such shootings.

Mendez said the Moores' case is similar to IDC v. City of Vallejo, in which the court found that the plaintiff's Monell claim "was sufficiently pleaded based on allegations that the officers involved, including officer Kenney, had engaged in repeated acts of excessive force, misconduct, and civil rights violations prior to the relevant incident, and that despite knowledge of this, the city of Vallejo allegedly failed to take measures to prevent their repeated misconduct."

Since the Moores advance "analogous allegations" here, Mendez denied the defendants' motion to dismiss.

The defendants argued that the Moores' state law claims must be dismissed because they did not comply with California Code § 945.4, which requires potential plaintiffs to file notice of an alleged injury or loss against a public entity before they can file suit for money or damages.

Since the Moores' government tort claim form "describes factual circumstances consistent with a wrongful death claim," their state law causes of action "introduce a shift in theory from the factual scenario of a 'wrongful death claim," the defendants argued.

Mendez was not persuaded.

The Moores wrote on their claim form that "(t)he police department shot our son while he was unarmed, causing his death," which gave the defendants adequate notice of the alleged problem and the opportunity to investigate the claim, Mendez found.

Mendez dismissed with prejudice the Moores' Ralph Civil Rights Act claims for hate violence against Officer Kenney and Vallejo because they did not indicate on the claim form that their son was disabled.

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